As we drag ourselves through the final stretch of January, Don Rowe asks one sleep expert how can we get some desperately needed shut-eye.
This post was first published in January 2018
Last night I dreamed I was back in high school, lacing up my boots to run out for the first XV in a season final, probably somewhere like Waikato Stadium or maybe Eden Park. I was nervous, on account of the fact that I spent last weekend at a music festival in Raglan, and am currently battling a chest infection. How could I feed the backs when I haven’t run anywhere but for the train in months? How would my tackling game be after five years out of the game? Where were my pants and why was my dad pulling on a jersey too?
You might have noticed, but it’s bloody hot out. Even when the sun goes down the heat remains like a bad, humid fart, completely unwelcome but all pervasive. Opening a window only makes things worse as the screams of sleep-deprived parents and their miserable children drift through the night, tainting your dreams and clinging to the walls like second-hand smoke. But why? Why does the heat deliver such wretched cheese-dreams? Why can’t anyone in this city get some goddamn shut-eye?
According to Dr Karyn O’Keeffe of the Massey University Sleep/Wake Centre, it has everything to do with the body’s thermoregulatory system – the means by which we unconsciously heat up or cool down.
“We have thermoregulatory responses that respond to heat and cold normally, and they are unable to be controlled as well during sleep,” she says. “We wake much more during the night, particularly during the first half of the night, and our sleep is a lot lighter. We end up being quite un-refreshed in the morning, and we’re very aware of the fact that we’ve been waking during the night.”
This is what accounts for the hellacious dreamscapes that seem to bleed halfway into the day. According to Dr O’Keeffee, we dream through every stage of sleep, but it’s during the deepest REM stages that the most bizarre dreams take place.
“It’s likely that you’re remembering these dreams because you’re awakening more regularly during your REM sleep and so there’s more of a chance that you’re aware of having had a strange dream than other nights.”
So what can we do? Is there any way to survive the summer sans-Ambien? Is there a sleep-hack? The answer, says O’Keeffe, is: kind of.
“Our body needs to drop temperature by a few degrees in order to fall asleep. We can fool that process into happening by having a relatively cool bath or shower about half an hour before bed and have that cool-down process occur which will mimic what would normally happen as we cool down before we sleep. So it can help with sleep onset. Aside from that it’s just the obvious things, like turning off your screens and turning on a fan.”
Which means you’re shit out of luck essentially, with annual horror stories about a nationwide fan shortage already rife in the media. But fear not, for we at The Spinoff have assembled our greatest scientific minds to compile this list of actionable tips for getting a bit of sleep before you do something drastic.
- Get divorced. Your partner’s body heat is making things worse. Your tears will also dampen your pillow.
- Freeze a hotwater bottle. It’ll either make a good icepack or an excellent cudgel with which to brain yourself.
- Sleep in the bath, it retains less heat than your mattress, and you’re within arms reach of the cold tap. If you leave the plug in and drown, you won’t need to worry about the heat.
- Hire a professional mister. Minimum wage is yet to hit $20, so pay a student to gently mist your body with jasmine-scented water from a spray and wipe bottle. Use actual spray and wipe and you won’t need to shower either.
- Use a fan, with ice tied to it.
- Sleep in a deep freezer. It’s cold, and if you close the lid and suffocate, you won’t need to worry about the heat.
- Buy a cooling pillow because of course they’re a thing.
- Don’t have kids – pretty utilitarian advice that.
- Stoke international tensions to provoke a nuclear winter
- Give up, this is the new normal. Sleep when you’re dead.